Finished! The Favorite Five Films I Saw (In 2011).

5. The Artist
Hey, we made it to the Best Picture winner already! This is flying by. 

I should mention early on that I don’t have any problem with The Artist winning Best Picture last year. Making a silent black-and-white movie in modern Hollywood is a ballsy thing, and the film is chock-full of energy and pathos in a way most modern films aren’t. I mean, sure, it’s a little like watching Singin’ In the Rain with the sound turned off and the chroma turned down, but honestly, most Hollywood films are much worse than watching Singin’ In The Rain with the sound turned off and the chroma turned down.

That said, this movie won’t age well. We’re not even a year past its big Oscar win, and it’s already all but forgotten. Director Michael Hazanvicius and star Jean Dujardin won their Oscars and returned to the screen again this year in The Players, and no one noticed. All the blathering about what a star-making turn it was by Berenice Bejo, and how we’ll be seeing her in everything shortly, has died out. They’re French stars, they returned to making French movies, and we’ll never hear from them again.

Still, I’m glad that The Artist won the Oscar. It was a fun movie to watch and a fun movie to talk about, and since our Oscar conversation this year is going to be dominated by the role of torture in movies about modern warfare, I’m glad that we got a small break of levity. I haven't seen Zero Dark Thirty yet, but there's no doubt it could be improved by the presence of a small, well-trained dog that mimics all the main character's actions.

4. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
I don’t enjoy horror movies. Not a bit. And particularly not slasher movies. I don’t enjoy the experience of deliberately causing myself fear, nor the sadomasochism of watching torture or pain. I’ve skipped dozens of Friday night movie invites (okay, this is an exagerration so you believe I am much more popular than I am) because I didn’t want to watch whatever the latest Eli Roth flick is. Not my thing.

But no matter how dark David Fincher goes (and in Dragon Tattoo, he ventures pretty far down the well), I always find it worth tracking with him. He doesn’t just take you to the darkness of the human mind, his films sit there and study it, waiting for you to accept what you’re seeing as part of the reality of human behavior. I thought I was prepared for this movie by his previous ventures into the minds of psychopaths (Seven, Zodiac), but the violence here is absolutely brutal, and on a number of levels, both mental and sexual. I generally prefer my films much less rape-y than this, but Dragon Tattoo was a film worth squirming in my seat through.

I know there’s been some Rooney Mara backlash since the picture was released, but it’s not based on her performance, certainly. The fresh-faced intellectual we met in Fincher’s Social Network is gone completely, and the transformation isn't just the physical mohawk-and-piercings that all the magazines gushed over. She disappears into the role, even varies her speaking cadence to match that of Swedish English speakers, a dedication that Daniel Craig doesn’t even pretend to bother with.

I’m a big fan of Craig’s, and he’s very good here, but he does that thing that drives me, as a former glasses wearer, up the wall. He’s wearing thick black glasses to try and knock down some of his Bond sexiness (unsuccessfully), and he responds to this new prop by fiddling with his glasses every waking second. You know, like people who wear glasses do.

Look, Craig: they’re eyewear. They go on your face. You forget about them. You don’t take them off and dangle them from one ear when you’re looking at something. Speaking of which, make a character decision and decide if you’re nearsighted or farsighted. Then, you can wear glasses to see things close up, or far away, depending on that disability. Don’t just wear the glasses “when you’re thinking about something.”

And for chrissakes, STOP DOING THIS.

These acting choices alone dropped this film two spots.


3. Moneyball 

It’s sort of funny, when you think about it, that Moneyball ranks this high on my list, and that it made such a strong Oscar run. Because Moneyball is such a small film.

Sports movies tend to be big – outsized, really. They like last-second dramatics, and the children of disabled small-town coal miners winning championships, because that’s the sort of sports movie we want to watch. But Moneyball is a sports movie with almost none of that. It’s the story of exploiting loopholes in conventional thinking to put together a baseball team a little better than the one they thought they could. That’s it.

It’s this lack of grandiosity that actually makes it a joy to watch on screen. It’s appropriate that Aaron Sorkin was snagged to do a rewrite on the script, since Moneyball is essentially “The West Wing” of baseball movies. It’s a couple guys in an office, tugging at strings behind the scenes, and waiting with bated breath to see if the world changes.

A quick Wikipedia search will tell you the answer to that question, so I don’t think it’s a spoiler to tell you that it both does and it doesn’t. But it doesn’t really matter if it does or not. It’s enough fun just watching the dream.

2. Bridesmaids
I don’t know what I could say about Bridesmaids that hasn’t already been said. I do know that I don’t want to run myself into the “can women be funny?” argument that seems to spring up basicaly every time an article about Tina Fey has a comments section. It’s a boring, infuriating argument and it goes nowhere.

Because Bridesmaids, as you know, is raunchy and loose, just like movies that men make - whoa! Whoops, sorry, slipped up and turned into Entertainment Weekly for a second. I meant to talk about the movie on its own merits, for a change.

I really like Bridesmaids. It’s funny – wildly funny, in parts – and it’s honest and sharp. It probably didn’t deserve the Oscar nom it got for Best Screenplay, but I’m glad it landed it all the same. I think sometimes people think these movies’ dialogue just appears out of the ether, because everyone’s improving their brains out in comedies now (and you know it’s your fault, Judd Apatow). 

And I’m glad it exists just because I was getting worried about Kristen Wiig. She was wrapping up her SNL run, and she seemed like she was about to become the sort of performer who everyone agrees is talented and funny but no one can ever find a good part for. There’s dozens of these comedians floating about (for example: Rob Riggle, Will Forte, and the entire cast of “Up All Night”) and a lot of them are SNL alums who disappear once we don’t see them on our TVs every night. Often the only way these types break out of it is to make something for themselves that actually fits their gifts. I mean, look at Louis C.K., for pity’s sake.

Now that she’s made what is arguably – maybe even undeniably – the funniest movie of the past few years, some studio will give her $30 million to do whatever she wants. And that makes me happy to think about.

1. The Descendants

I don’t know if I have a unique angle to discuss The Descendants. I liked the movie (well, obviously), but there’s not much I could say about it that couldn’t be covered by copying over the description in Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide. It’s a small movie. It’s about grief. George Clooney almost won the Oscar for it. Frankly, George Clooney should have won the Oscar for it, but he still gets to be George Clooney, so there’s not much to get worked up about there.

It’s a movie by a director that film critic-types love: Alexander Payne. He’s directed one film that I like and admire (About Schmidt), one film that was praised to the skies that I thought was decent (Sideways), and one film that’s considered hip to call your favorite Payne movie that I deeply, deeply hate (Election). So I wasn’t expecting to like this movie as much as I did.

But all the things that Payne’s done in his movies to keep the audience at arm’s length – the way he makes his characters do more and more unlikable things, the constant sabotaging of their own happiness – those things have disappeared. Or, maybe he’s just softened them: whenever he introduces new, bizarre, unlikable characters (which happens every ten minutes in this movie), he then works to make you understand them enough until you come to root for them. Some critics felt like he’d lost his edge. Me, I like this new, gentler Payne much better than the old one.

Sure, the movie’s wrapped around a pointless what-are-we-to-do-with-this-valuable-land? plot that’s well-nigh as obvious as Avatar’s, but it was comforting and familiar and I didn’t mind it. I guess what I'm saying is that sometimes it’s just best to give the people what they want.


Ha! I did it! I caught up. Now, on to 2012.

Daily postings for the rest of the week!